Huge thanks to Essie for sharing her thoughts here!
It feels as though Essie Fox writes with a real passion and fascination for her themes, and this comes across, it drew me in and aroused my interest. In fact, right from the first page, reading the letter from Alice's mother to her sister Mercy that was 'never sent', I was intrigued. I liked how Queen Victoria and her mourning were incorporated into the storyline. Another fascinating character brought into the tale is the Maharajah Duleep Singh, taken from his homeland to England, becoming Queen Victoria's 'beautiful boy'. The plot holds surprises and twists, and I found myself reading a little slower sometimes to make sure I fully digested what was happening, sometimes to pause and think about what had happened, and I had to ask myself sometimes if I things were real or imaginary.
Alice's world whilst in India feels so rich and full of colour and joyous experiences, and her life in England seems by contrast to be constrained, bleak and grey, stifling her. At times I felt very sad for Alice at the situations she found herself in, very vulnerable, sometimes with little or no way out, being manipulated or controlled by others.
It's a read strong on atmosphere, plot, imagination and mystery, with characters driven by passion and obsession. I felt immersed in a different place, hearing tales of mysterious people, precious objects, of mythology, gods and spirits, and learning a little of colonialism. The story ended on a poignant note. For me this was an unusual, clever and captivating tale by an author talented in successfully weaving so many facets of history and imagination together into her narratives. I don't know if I've done this story justice in my review but hopefully given a flavour of it and how I enjoyed it. Do read the afterword by the author that sheds more light on what you've just read.
I was lucky enough to read the lovely hardback edition of this novel, which is beautifully designed and textured.